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The Navy Department Library

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About the Library


The Navy Department Library provides resources for scholarly research on the history, heritage,  and warfare of the United States Navy through the preservation of historical literature.

Library History

The Navy Department Library traces its roots to a letter dated 31 March 1800 from President John Adams to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert directing him to establish a library that would contain "the best writing...on the theory and practice of naval architecture, navigation, gunnery...." From that beginning, the Library's collections have grown to 114,000 book titles, 374,000 manuscripts, and 189,000 issues of periodicals, including 5,644 Rare and 11,011 Special Collections titles, with an emphasis on naval, nautical, and military history including foreign navies. The Library is home to the most comprehensive collection of historical literature on the United States Navy. Over 13.5% of the cataloged items are unique, and located nowhere else.

One of the few major military historical libraries open to the public, the library serves an international audience. It provides resources vital to the writing and publishing of naval history, as well as information relating to the needs of today's US Navy. The Navy Department Library joined the Federal Depository Library Program in 1895. The library's older holdings are included in the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints, a set of 754 volumes, compiled from 1968 to 1981. The library uses the Library of Congress Classification system, and employs OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) services to assist in cataloging and interlibrary loan. The publicly-accessible interface to OCLC is Worldcat, which allows researchers to search for items and determine which libraries, including the Navy Department Library, they are located in. The Library's catalog is online.

Individual highlights of the collection include the US Navy's first signal book, Thomas Truxtun's Instructions, Signals and Explanations... (1797); David Porter's signal book (1809); rare Confederate and Union signal books; calling cards collected by John Paul Jones in Russia; hundreds of unpublished World War II administrative and cryptological histories; translations of war diaries from various German Navy headquarters; material captured on the German submarine U-505 in 1944; and a collection of ship half-hull models.

For further information, see "History of the Navy Department Library".

Subjects Emphasized

  • Naval, maritime, and military history
  • Naval architecture and shipbuilding
  • Naval customs and traditions
  • Naval doctrine
  • Naval ordnance
  • Naval shore and fleet activities
  • Naval uniforms, insignia, and awards
  • Navigation, voyages, and exploration
  • Irregular Warfare

Special and Rare Collections


Circulation Policy

Personnel stationed or employed on the Washington Navy Yard may borrow materials for one month. The Library participates in interlibrary loan. Rare, Special Collection, and Reference books, as well as bound periodicals, do not circulate. The Library reserves the right to refuse to circulate or permit the reproduction of any items considered unique or fragile. Items over 100 years old are not available for interlibrary loan. Faxed requests for interlibrary loan are not accepted.

Reference Assistance and Policy

The Library provides limited telephone, in-person and written reference assistance. Detailed questions requiring in-depth research must be conducted in person at the library or by employing a commercial research service. Typically, the staff will suggest possible sources of information, such as a book or archival facility, to assist patrons in conducting their own research. Simple questions such as, "When was USS America (CV-66) commissioned?" or, "Who was the Secretary of the Navy in 1938?" can sometimes be answered via telephone.

Cruise Books 

The NDL Cruise Book Collection is only available for research use inside of the Library. While Reference Librarians can confirm whether we hold a cruise book in our collection and provide limited photocopying of portions of a book for personal use, cruise books are copyrighted works, and the Library is unable to duplicate entire works. 

Read about opportunities for Navy Reservists.


Washington Navy Yard, first floor, Building 44.
Map of WNY & Information on Visiting the Command


Due to the Navy Department Library moving to a diffrent building, the Navy Department Library is currently closed.  Please email us at for more information. 


(202) 433-4132

Published: Mon Jun 10 14:22:30 EDT 2024